Too many Indians blind to country’s still pervasive racial bigotry

By Himanshu Kumar Source:Global Times Published: 2014-2-27 19:58:01

Indians are grappling with complex ethical dilemmas, as growing intolerance manifests itself in serious social problems.

The recent bout of self-reflection comes after a brutal murder in New Delhi where a 18-year-old male college student died of his injuries after being brutally beaten by a mob in a bustling marketplace.

The conflict erupted when he stopped by the confectionery shop with his friends asking for directions, and the people in shop taunted him about his blonde hair and teased him about his East Asian facial features.

The student, a resident of the remote northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, was holidaying in the political capital where such incidents go unabated and unnoticed in recent years.

The case made national headlines as the dead victim was the son of a legislator of the ruling Congress party in the state.

This is not a lone story. In the past two years alone, many such cases have reverberated across the country.

The murder of a Nigerian national a few months ago in the country's most urbane state Goa sparked an onslaught of racial comments while ignoring the larger problems.

In a July 2013 incident, a Chad citizen married to an Indian woman and working in the nation's Silicon Valley and third largest city Bangalore was assaulted by a mob while he was going to pick his daughter up from school.

The city also witnessed the mass departure of thousands of northeasterners in August 2012, as they were threatened by rumors of planned attacks.

It was widely reported in the media last year that India is among the least racially tolerant country. If one treats this information as a yardstick, then this would mean labeling all elements in the society as racists and making sweeping generalizations.

There is no denying that there is some sort of prejudice involved, as there are some bad elements in every place irrespective of caste or creed.

All these incidents have created a lacuna that needs to be filled to prevent this multi-ethnic and polyglot society from being torn apart.

There is a deeply divided and polarized society in the country. The invisible barbed wire around these social problems reveals that there is regionalism and stereotyping because the urban and rural areas are separated by economic and cultural chasms.

Sixty-six years of democratic statehood have not been effective to curb bigotry.

Successive governments for years have ignored the problem and failed to make anti-racism a part of the education system, even though the northeast has 25 members of parliament.

Expat communities in our hyper-connected world engage in cultural and public diplomacy toward their homelands, and help to build up a framework for all cross-border cooperation programs between countries.

As India changes mindsets to transform, one might expect xenophobic attitude to dissolve and disappear, which is so vexing in everyday lives.

In the northeast where study and work opportunities are more limited than elsewhere, many often move seeking new positions.

Many of them feel profoundly alienated in other parts of the country, owing to people's ignorance about their own cultural, geographical and linguistic diversity.

A recent survey conducted by Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research in a public university in Delhi showed that 60 percent of women from northeast India have been subjected to unfair discrimination and bullying in four Indian metropolises.

There are several layers to the challenge of fighting bigotry, such as ethnic and religious conflicts, but most importantly is the trust deficit between Indians in their own country.

Rather than playing politics of assigning blame and giving way to anarchy, these tragedies are an opportunity for all people to celebrate differences and preserve the multiculturalism.

The author is a Master's candidate in Global Business Journalism at Tsinghua University.

Posted in: Viewpoint

blog comments powered by Disqus